Weight training for women is more popular than ever. The misconceptions of women becoming ‘bulky’ or ‘too masculine’ as a result of lifting heavy weights have been proven wrong repeatedly.
Many women today are using weight training for a number of different reasons; be it, physical strength, aesthetics, empowerment, or all of the above. The fact is; weight training for women continues to evolve.
From the female bodybuilders perspective, weight training is nothing new. That is because she already knows that weight training is the only way for a woman to alter her physique. The same applies to female powerlifters, the powerlifter knows that she can push the boundaries of her physical strength without fear of morphing into the hulk. The strongwoman is equally aware that the benefits of weight training for women far out weigh any desire to 'fit in' with the failing methods of the masses. Likewise, the Olympic lifter has a far bigger game to play than to spare a second thought for ill informed hearsay. Last but not least; the 'because I can' lifter, she may not have given herself a professional title, but she still reaps the rewards of breaking the mould, stepping outside of the box and embracing this truly empowering sport.
While we all have our own reasons for doing what we do, there is no denying that each and every woman in weightlifting has a story to tell about how it changed her life.
Let's get stuck into some detail...
This article covers:
- Weight training for women
- Weight training for beginners
- Advanced weightlifting for women
Weight training for women is nothing new
Strong women date back to the 16th century but the sport has only really been taken more seriously in recent years; before this weight training for women was considered somewhat of a joke.
You would not believe the things people used to say and think about a woman’s choice to partake in this sport! In spite of that, our sisters persevered with the knowledge that what they were doing was far from a joke.
Let’s get serious…
What are the benefits of weight training for women?
Increase in muscle mass.
Let’s start with the most obvious one – lifting weights will result in building more muscle, however in females, this will not result in a ‘bulky’ or ‘masculine’ look.
Women do not have the testosterone levels to build muscle at the same rate as men do. So whilst women will develop muscle definition and strength, it is important to note that they won’t get the same increase in size as men.
Burns body fat.
Lifting weights will result in fat loss.
Weight training builds muscle, and this results in a faster metabolism, meaning your body will burn more energy at rest. – That's in addition to the calories you’ll burn during your sessions!
If you want to know more about fat loss see: Strength training for fat loss.
There have been numerous studies and a lot of evidence supporting the fact that exercise benefits an individual’s mental health. When we exercise our bodies release feel-good endorphins which are neurotransmitters shown to improve mood, lower stress and decrease pain.
Above all else, lifting the weight you never thought you could, will leave you feeling truly empowered.
Weight training can get your heart rate up just as much as cardio, so it’s just as good for your heart health.
In fact; the American Heart Association even recommends that adults should aim to do at least two strength training sessions a week to keep on top of their heart health.
Weight training strengthens your entire body including your back, hips, core and shoulders, which in turn can correct bad posture and prevent back pain.
Lowers risk of injury.
Weight training doesn’t just strengthen your muscles, you will also strengthen your joints, tissues and ligaments. When these become stronger your risk of injuring yourself is substantially lower.
Weight training can even relieve pain from osteoarthritis!
Boosts brain power.
Exercise as a whole keeps our brain active and even increases productivity, however a number of studies have shown that resistance and weight training in particular can result in increased cognitive function, giving our brains a boost!
Feel good factor!
Once you start lifting heavy the feel good factor will kick in and you’ll wish you started sooner!
Weight training for women who are complete beginners
Weight training for women who are complete beginners can be an awkward and sometimes intimidating process. The testosterone filled weights area of the gym doesn’t always appear welcoming to the unsuspecting newbie.
If you can afford a personal trainer, and have access to a good one, then use one. You’ll save yourself a lot of uncertainty and you’ll have the immediate confidence that somebody who knows what they’re doing is guiding you. Having someone by your side, working with you and making sure you’re avoiding those ‘rookie mistakes’ is second to none.
Be warned; good personal training isn’t cheap, on the other hand, cheap personal training isn’t good, and finally, expensive personal training isn’t always worth it.
If you do find a good trainer, stick with them for as long as you need. It should be noted that you don’t have to sign up to personal training forever. A good trainer will teach you independence, because they know that you’ll need to be doing a lot outside of your sessions, in order to reap the most reward.
If you're on the look out for a new personal trainer, check out: Things to ask your new potential trainer – before you give them any money
This is the most ideal way to get started; but obviously personal training is a luxury, if you’re hard up for cash, there are other ways.
So what’s a beginner to do?
Get out there!
Without a doubt, the best thing you can do for yourself is take the time to learn and understand the process. The internet is full of useful information, it is also full of not so useful information so be sure to test and prove everything on yourself, for yourself. Seek the guidance of course, but understand that what works for one may not work for the other.
Weight training for women needs to be taken more seriously, therefore we suggest that you avoid blindly following another woman's plan because she looks good and makes it look easy. Instagram is a wonderful tool for motivation, but it is also a minefield of misconceptions and bad advice. This happens all over the internet, so take the reference to Instagram as an example and not an attack on the platform.
In order to get the most out of weight training you need to take full responsibility for yourself. That means putting in the work while taking the time to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
As a beginner you should avoid aimlessly walking into a gym without a plan or a clue. Take the time to do a little research online (exactly like you’re doing now reading this article). Start to think about what your goals are; do you want to get stronger, leaner, bigger, smaller?
Check out; How To Create Your Own Workout Plan for more details on how you can get started.
Side note; don’t try to learn everything at once, just get enough information to get started and the rest will follow with experience.
Get a goal
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have some direction. Without a goal you have nothing; so if you don't have one, you need to get one. Alongside your goal you need a plan.
Your plan depends heavily on your goal, so it would be impossible to predict that for every single one of you in this article. You can research your particular goal further and explore your options. There's a lot of useful content on his site so use the search function or check out our articles page.
Whatever your goal is, you need to get started with some basic conditioning exercises. It would be foolish to go straight into a weight training program without first priming your body.
Here are some exercises to prime your body for weight training
- Body weight squats
- Body weight lunges
- Press ups
- Kettlebell swings
Instructions on how to perform these exercises
Body weight squat
Feet shoulder width apart.
Stick your bum out and keep your chest high – look up, and maintain a straight back throughout.
Sit back into your squat and drive through your heels.
Aim for parallel – this means you should aim to get your quads/hamstrings parallel with the floor.
Power back up, squeezing your glutes at the top.
Tip! If you’re not sure how deep you’re going, use a bench or box behind you and make sure your bum touches it every time. If you’re struggling with your form, hold onto some TRX straps (or something else) for stability. This will help your muscles get used to the movement.
Body weight lunges
Stand up straight, keeping your hands on your hips the entire time so that you recruit your core to stabilise you.
Feet shoulder width apart, look up, keep your chest high and your back straight throughout.
Lunge forward (or backwards) and get your knee as close to the floor as possible, come back up and swap legs.
As with the squats, if you haven’t got the stability to get good form, hold onto a pole or something that will stabilise you while you get used to the movement.
Most people know how to plank. On your hands or on your elbows, doesn’t matter which, just hold it there for as long as possible. Keep your body straight and your core tight!
Do these on your knees if you need to.
Keep your hands around chest level, and just outside of shoulder width apart.
Your neck and head should be neutral and in-line with your torso, don’t look up.
Now press down keeping your body as tight as possible, (try not to sag in the middle), go as low as you can and then come back up and go again.
To ease the pressure on your wrists, try shifting your weight onto the outside of your hands.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, squat down and grab the kettlebell with two hands.
As you come up swing the kettlebell out driving through your hips, you shouldn’t be using your arms to move the weight. The swing and power through your hips will move the weight.
Bring the kettlebell back down between your legs and swing up again.
Tip! If you’re driving the kettlebell above chest height you can go heavier.
More advanced weight training for women
Remember that weight training for women isn’t too dissimilar to weight training for men. The main difference between the genders is that usually (not always), we have different objectives. That’s why women tend to be marketed to differently.
Well not all women are built equal, some of us don’t want the cardio bunny fit tea life, we want to push boundaries in regards to power, physical strength and building our desired physique. – For those ladies, I bring you more advanced weightlifting.
Whether you are man / woman / other, a good weightlifting plan is built around a handful of key moves. Master these moves and everything else will begin to progress naturally for you.
Let’s get down to business – here is weight training for women seeking ‘badass’ status...
There is absolutely no need to complicate this. In fact; sometimes it's the simplest of workouts that reap the most remarkable rewards. Everybody has the same 24 hours to work with on a daily basis. How much time we can dedicate to a workout depends heavily on what else we have going on around us. The good news is; you don’t need more time. What you need is a more efficient plan!
You don't need to do everything at once
Try to avoid jumping straight into a complex workout plan with complex moves, this could hold you back in a number of ways: You could get injured – burn out – start hating it due to the complexity and effort applied. You may even find yourself confused and unsure as to why you are performing certain moves.
If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll struggle to place any value on it, and if you don’t value what you’re doing, you won’t apply the required effort. This is why you should keep it simple.
We have already said that weight training for women and men isn't too dissimilar, so it's time to play with some 'big boy' weights...
Three key moves you must prioritise
These three compound moves are the base of any good weightlifting plan. If you’re in this for the long haul, these moves will be recurring. They are truly powerful moves and when executed correctly, you can achieve exceptional results, with minimum movement.
Those moves are:
What’s so special about these moves?
These moves are your key strength builders and biggest fat burners.
They don’t involve a lot of movement, but they do engage a lot of different muscle groups, allowing you to build more strength and burn more energy in one fluid movement.
If you want to take the fast track to strength and power, these moves are definitely not to be missed! Everything else should be worked in around your bench, deadlift and squat.
Adopting this training method isn’t just about strength and power, these moves will also help to fast track you to aesthetic results as well as other things, such as; improved posture and better bone health.
How to perform these moves correctly
Lay flat on the bench and keep your feet firmly on the ground.
Press your shoulder blades into the bench and reach up and un-rack the bar, keeping your arms straight.
Lower the bar to your chest until it just touches, and then push back up. Go for reps.
Note* Safety first!
The bar alone weighs 20kg’s, if you’re not sure if you can manage it, try working your way up doing the same movement using the barbells and a free bench. Do this until you can confidently manage 20kg’s.
Alternatively, you can use the smith machine for assistance, though note that 20kg’s on the smith machine will not feel the same as 20 kg’s on the bench.
Anyone using the smith machine should do so with a plan to progress to the free bench.
If you can get someone around to help you, even better.
Barbell back squat
If you’re not yet comfortable using the squat rack, grab a barbell that you are able to raise over your head and rest on the back of your shoulders, do your squats like this until you reach 20 kg’s.
Once you are able to comfortably squat the 20kg barbell, you will know you are able to squat the Olympic bar on the squat rack.
Both form and bar position play a big part in getting your squat right. It really pays to get this right from the start.
You should stand with your feet shoulder width apart, turn your toes out slightly if it’s more comfortable for you. Stick your bum out and keep your chest high. The bar should sit just below your shoulders, not on your neck.
When holding the bar, keep your elbows tucked in and your hands in a position that’s comfortable, use the knurling in the bar to balance your hand placement.
Sit back into your squat, looking up and keeping your chest high throughout. Power back up and squeeze your glutes at the top.
Try to avoid squatting in trainers with gel bottoms, either go bare foot or get yourself some flat soled shoes, or lifting shoes, it really does make a difference!
Check out; how to use a squat rack .
A deadlift should do exactly what it says on the tin, ‘dead’ lift means you should pick the weight up dead off the floor with every single rep.
Standing with your toes slightly under the bar and feet shoulder width apart, reach down and grip the bar wherever you feel comfortable. Straight down directly below your shoulders is an ideal position.
While holding onto the bar, flatten your back and point your bum up in the air, look up always, keep your chest high and your back straight.
Pull the bar up to hip height (hinge at your hips), lock your knees and hips and squeeze your glutes, hold for a couple of seconds and then slowly bring the bar back down to the floor. Take the bar back down in the same way you came up.
Tip! Your back should be as neutral as possible, avoid rounding your back or over-exaggerating the lower back arch.
If you are finding that your grip is starting to go, you can start using switch grip, this is where you have one hand over and one hand under when gripping the bar. This will help you keep hold of the bar!
Also, if you’re lucky enough to have a gym who have invested in a trap bar let us know and we will help you ensure you’re deadlifting with correct form on that. These are particularly good if you have lower back issues, and some even say they get much more power on them, likely due to the fact that being inside the bar means it’s loaded to your centre of gravity.
This is what it takes!
Hopefully by now you can see that weight training for women is in a league of its own. If you want serious results, you must take this seriously.
Forget everything negative you have heard about being a woman in weightlifting and embrace the fact that your gender does not define your physical strength.
Beginner and advanced weight training isn’t too dissimilar, for the most part the lifts are the same; it’s the performance that changes.